USA Today has a cover story this morning about the Registered Traveler (RT) program, describing recently-announced TSA plans to impose additional fees totaling $120 on people enrolling in a Registered Traveler program, including $30 for a terrorism-related background check, $20 for a criminal background check, and $70 to pay for the TSA screeners who would staff RT lines, according to the USA Today story. Combined with the expected $80 cost of enrolling in one of the private sector programs, that would mean a $200 initial outlay for anyone who wanted to enroll in the program.
At that price, I’d expect that the number of people who would enroll would we so small that it would effectively destroy the entire Registered Traveler business model. As with the PASS card program, where cards look to be overpriced at $50, the federal government’s inability to drive down costs (and then pay for it via a higher volume of enrollees) is likely to leave this type of program stillborn.
That said, I do have some sympathy with TSA’s arguments that the full cost of this program should be borne by enrollees. The benefits of Registered Traveler accrue almost solely to its enrollees, and not to the nation’s security as a whole, and it makes sense that RT participants should pay for any marginal costs associated with the program. But are the TSA screeners marginal costs in this case? Not entirely: they would be screened today in existing lines, and deploying them to these RT lines would involve both fixed and variable costs. And travelers already pay for part of the cost of TSA screeners via the existing aviation security fees. For this $70 portion of the total cost, I think a more nuanced analysis of cost allocations is in order.